“What do we need to do as a financial institution? Banking? Yes, check. Loans? Check. Investments? Check. We do all of them, but it's not about making it better. It was about checking the box.” -Mart Vos
Mart Vos, the founder and CEO of Eko Investments, hears the same thing over and over about traditional banking brands. Young people say, “My parents banked there, but it doesn’t offer the products I want.”
By the millions, Gen Z and younger account holders are turning to neobanks rather than the legacy brands that once dominated the financial space. What can traditional credit unions and community banks do? How can they nurture relationships with a new generation?
To answer these questions, Mart takes a deep dive into the financial industry to examine why younger generations are shunning traditional banks and how these brands can stay relevant.
The Rise of Eko and the COVID Investment Boom
Mart’s company is a great example of thriving under exceptionally challenging circumstances. Eko’s impressive growth occurred during one of the most difficult periods in recent human history.
As the planet strained under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial world was struggling to stay stable. Stocks went into free-fall briefly, then rebounded three months later. Investing rose sharply.
Brands like Robinhood, the online stock trading company, sprang up out of nowhere and became wildly popular. Meanwhile, Mart and his colleagues at Eko began having little conversations with so-called “small investors” who were involved with millions of dollars in investments.
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He noticed that many of them were waiting weeks for their monthly investment statements. It was ridiculous to see such enthusiastic investors stymied by a lack of access to their investment information. Mart realized a digital investment dashboard would help them track their investments with no lag time.
Eko attracts investors at all levels with its simple, user-friendly method of keeping an eye on investments. The company works with financial institutions that want to offer a user-friendly digital investment tool “without having to build anything or hire anyone,” as its website says. This is called investments-as-a-service and it turns investing into a deeply personal experience for its end users.
Mart compares and contrasts digital investments with digital loans.
While the world of investing is largely making the digital transition, loans are still lagging. The average consumer loathes the traditional loan process, but they don’t know how to change it and aren’t empowered to do so.
That’s why innovation and education must take place at the financial institutions themselves. Learning should happen at all levels and points in the process. Even after a new digital product is introduced, education should continue.
Fintechs are Banking on the Lack of Innovation
Eko is the right fit for a new generation of people who have always had other options available. A new bank is just one Google search away. Why not switch?
Younger people don’t feel disloyal about searching for a new bank online and making a quick change, especially when the digital options are so much better. This is a stark contrast to older generations, who tend to choose financial brands and stay loyal to them even when the service feels somewhat subpar.
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Neobanks and fintechs have revolutionized the financial landscape. As Mart says, “I think they pray every day that the financial institutions are not going to innovate because this is the whole reason they exist.” They’re hoping legacy brands never wake up and transform.
Mart points out that upstart financial brands also adapt to changing conditions so quickly, it’s extremely difficult for traditional brands to keep up. “They have a very short feedback loop,” Mart says. “They adapt very fast and the word ‘conservative’ is kind of banned. And I know that’s a very far bridge from the traditional financial institution.”
Even stable 150-year-old brands find themselves stumbling to keep pace with some of today’s most popular financial innovators. Your bank might have 150 years of trust, but you don’t necessarily have the last 5 years of the technology, people, or mindset it takes to compete in a new marketplace.
Are You Naive Enough to Succeed?
When it comes to making investments, a younger audience is less impressed by a company’s ability to exist for 30 years and more impressed with its ability to offer flexible digital solutions. Mart has found that when a brand simply offers a new digital solution directly on its existing online platform, it converts 14 times more people.
When Mart first started sharing this statistic a few years ago, most banking execs didn’t believe it. Or perhaps they just didn’t care, because they usually brushed it off by saying something like, “We already have someone who takes care of this.” They assumed their longstanding digital provider would address issues like offering the right digital products and facilitating online conversions.
This blasé attitude has had dire consequences.
While banks and credit unions were looking the other way, fintechs and neobanks gobbled up their best prospects in the younger demographics. Now they’re realizing their mistake and trying to catch up.
Mart believes he and his team have survived in part due to their “naively optimistic” mindsets. He says, “You need to be a little bit crazy, right? Because everyone tells you, ‘Look, we’ve been doing this for 40 years like this.’”
Mart encourages financial brands to shake out of their old-fashioned mindsets by recapturing a bit of naiveté and optimism. It’s time to welcome outsider perspectives and creative solutions. Hire new people from outside the traditional financial industry.
Push forward to innovate, despite the odds.
What is The Biggest Mistake in Banking?
Mart is originally from the Netherlands and has found that U.S. banking executives tend to be extremely change-averse, constantly worrying about making mistakes. When they’ve already been in the business for 15 years, they know their career exists because they’ve avoided making mistakes.
But “don’t make mistakes” isn’t a motto that fosters future growth. In fact, it entirely limits your ability to see and pursue innovative solutions. To shift this mindset, Mart encourages financial execs to consider a new mantra: “Not doing anything is making a mistake.”
If you’re having trouble sparking innovation at your organization or even within yourself, Mart recommends doing something as simple as calling 50 of your existing clients for simple conversations. Ask questions like, “How do you like what we’re doing?”
Spend two or three hours a day doing this and it could completely shift your mindset. Mart guarantees that you won’t be able to forget hearing those voices as they share their financial worries and tell you exactly how your company could improve.
This article was originally published on November 9, 2022. All content © 2023 by Digital Growth Institute and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.